BOSTON -- Entering the World Series, one of the traits shared by the Cardinals and Red Sox was the superb defensive play of their shortstops.
Game 1 of the World Series -- an 8-1 St. Louis loss at Fenway Park -- was one that Cards shortstop Pete Kozma would like to forget. The normally steady infielder had a rough night on Wednesday, making two costly errors in Boston's rout.
But one game should not be blown out of proportion. Everyone has a bad day. For Kozma, the struggles of Game 1 were exaggerated; they happened on baseball's biggest stage.
Kozma's most crucial blunder was a missed catch on an attempted double play that resulted in an overturned call and helped the Red Sox open the floodgates. Boston scored three first-inning runs and took control of the game from there.
With pitching being such a critical component of postseason success, having a solid and dependable defense is required. In virtually every playoff game leading to this World Series, great pitching dominated. But such pitching was supported in most cases by exceptional defense.
As a scout, I still believe that good pitching beats good hitting. However, as we saw in Boston's six-game triumph over Detroit in the American League Championship Series, timely hitting can spoil that adage.
Strength up the middle of the diamond -- with good defensive catchers, dependable middle infielders and quality center fielders -- forms the nucleus of the defense. Soft and sure hands, good range, a strong and accurate throwing arm and a quick first step are essential for a quality shortstop to cover the vast amount of ground between second base and third.
History will show that most outstanding teams boast an above-average defensive shortstop. Teams don't win pennants without sure-handed defenders.
This year's World Series is no exception. As we saw throughout the regular season, both Kozma and Stephen Drew of the Red Sox played dependable defense.
Interestingly, neither Kozma nor Drew is a household name. Neither entered the World Series with a booming bat that can change a game. Neither has the cachet of outspoken or charismatic players. With the exception of Game 1 for Kozma, both shortstops had gone about their business, playing under the radar.
Game 1 aside, Kozma has good range and a solid arm. He can make plays from the hole well. Kozma has good first-step quickness and an ability to make the difficult plays, as well as the routine ones. He made only nine errors this season.
Kozma hit only .217 during the regular season; he is playing because of his defense.
Drew simply makes plays in an unspectacular manner. He is especially adept at catching fly balls in no man's land beyond shortstop and in front of the outfielders. Drew did so in the ALCS, and I saw him do so time and time again when he played for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Drew has much better range than people may think. He goes to both sides extremely well, but I am particularly impressed with the way he takes hits away behind second base. Drew isn't fast, but his instincts and quickness help his overall approach.
Drew made only eight errors in 2013, and he hit .253 during the regular season.
With the designated hitter being employed at AL parks, playing weak-hitting shortstops is much more tolerable than in the National League, where the pitcher hits. Still, Drew hit enough to contribute to his team's offense.
Given the importance of each game, this World Series could easily turn on one or two defensive plays. Unfortunately, things have not started well for Kozma. But it's still early.
The beauty of baseball is the fact there is always another game on the horizon. Until, that is, the World Series, when it all comes to a crashing halt following a fourth defeat for one of the clubs.
Look for a defensive rebound from Kozma and a solid effort from Drew as the World Series continues. There's too much at stake, and they're both too good to allow themselves to suddenly lose their typical brand of solid defense -- especially while playing on baseball's biggest stage.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter for live tweets from Boston and St. Louis during the World Series, and read Bernie's Baseball World for analysis on this year's Fall Classic.